Eddie Jones ended his self-imposed ban on criticising referees after labelling Manu Tuilagi’s red card “a load of rubbish” following England’s 33-30 victory over Wales, with the head coach risking possible disciplinary action despite the Twickenham success.
England clinched the Triple Crown thanks to wins over Scotland, Ireland and on Saturday Wales, but they finished the match with 13 men as Ellis Genge was sin-binned for repeated team infringements and Tuilagi became the sixth England player to be sent off in international rugby for a shoulder charge to the head of George North.
Tuilagi faces a lengthy ban for the tackle, given under World Rugby laws contact with the head immediately results in a mid-entry citing of six weeks before mitigation, while Joe Marler also faces possible action after Welsh captain Alun Wyn Jones accused him of grabbing his genitalia in the eight minute of an ill-disciplined contest.
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Jones declined to comment on the Marler incident, but in a breakaway from his desire not to criticise referees, he was damning of referee Ben O’Keeffe and Television Match Official Marius Jonker for sending Tuilagi off.
“I just find it bizarre,” said Jones. “I usually don’t comment, but I don’t see how you can tackle a guy. You might as well just say if someone’s tackled like that you let him go, because how else are you supposed to tackle him?
“This bit about where your arms are, what a load of rubbish. Manu was trying to kill the tackle. That’s the only thing he was trying to do. It’s absolute rubbish. I’m sorry, I’ve broken my rule.”
Replacement Henry Slade had looked to have made a try-saving tackle on North as England led 33-16 when Tuilagi arrived, with the powerhouse centre leading with his shoulder into the head of the Wales winger without attempting to wrap the arm. Yet Jones, who now risks disciplinary action for his outburst, questioned what Tuilagi was supposed to have done when North was already heading for the turf.
“It just seems there’s no common sense applied in that situation” he added. “Clearly the guy is falling, there’s a good chop tackle and Manu is coming over the top to kill the tackle. He’s doing everything that he’s supposed to be doing and he gets red carded. Like, come on.”
Jones has previously spoken out against a similar incident in August of last year, when New Zealand lock Scott Barrett was shown a red card for his tackle on Australia captain Michael Hooper in the Wallabies’ 47-26 victory, as the England coach labelled the red card issued by Jerome Garces “ridiculous” in scathing comments about World Rugby’s high-tackle laws.
Jones was also scathing of O’Keeffe’s performance on the whole, claiming that the Kiwi was firmly on the side of Wales. “It was a good tough win (against) quality opposition, at the end we were 13 against 16 and it’s hard. We hung in there,” Jones said.
“I thought it was a brilliant performance by the team, we had two guys who didn’t train until Wednesday, we had one guy who played 80 minutes for the first time for a long time so our resources were really tested. We got out enough in the second half, had the early setback but I thought our recovery from that emotionally was outstanding and we played a good tough hard game of rugby.”
Asked for his thoughts on the red card, Wales boss Wayne Pivac said that he was in complete agreement with O’Keeffe’s decision, with his side then scoring two late tries against the 13 men of England that salvaged a losing bonus point as well as their pride. At one stage, England looked to be cruising for a landslide victory as tries from Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly and Tuilagi on top of 14 points from Owen Farrell and three from George Ford put the hosts in a commanding lead, but two scores from Justin Tipuric and one from Dan Biggar displayed the visitor’s fighting spirit.
The victory could come at a cost for England, with Jones, Tuilagi and Marler all facing possible action – the latter of which facing the most severe with an entry point of 12 weeks if he is found guilty of Jones’s allegation.
When asked about the incident in the post-match press conference, Jones twice asked “Can you specify?” before “between the legs” was clarified to “genatalia” in the line of questioning. “It was interesting,” came the 34-year old’s immediate reply. “What would you do in that situation?
“138 Tests for my country. If I react, I get a red card. It’s tough, isn’t it? Hopefully World Rugby have a look at it. Joe’s a good bloke. Lots of things happen on a rugby field. My question is, it’s difficult as a captain these days because you can’t speak to a ref about anything it feels.
“Obviously he (O’Keeffe) didn’t see it, that’s fine. But there’s all the footage that’s been shown obviously. A lot of supporters saw what happened. It’s just very frustrating the fact we talk a lot about TMOs and footage review, there doesn’t seem a lot of that happening.”
On whether the incident itself would constitute abuse in any other setting, the Welsh skipper reiterated the importance that the incident should be viewed in a rugby, heat-of-the-moment context.
“It’s very easy to make sport a vehicle for a lot of political and social issues. I think there’s a gravitas for a lot of people to do that today in this day and age and that’s a dangerous thing as well, that’s a real thing that is important.
“I think it needs to be taken into the context of the game. But I think with regards to the judicial power that World Rugby has and the footage that we have surrounding each game, you know, as players – and I’m going to remove myself and Joe from this, and the game itself – that’s the thing we need to focus on. Not the incident or the individual.”
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